15. “Radio Nowhere”

When I interviewed Bruce Springsteen a few weeks back, among the many fond memories he shared of his friendship with Paul Nelson was how, in Paul’s review of The River, he had correctly identified the influence that London Calling had had on that album. Springsteen told me about the great affinity he’d always had for not just the Clash but punk rock as a whole. “I felt a deep connection to those things,” he said, “and it kinda runs right through [The River].”

It’s a connection that continues, as demonstrated by the recent release of the first single from Springsteen’s upcoming album, Magic. Following in the tradition of great radio songs like the Clash’s “Capitol Radio” and “Radio Clash,” Elvis Costello’s “Radio, Radio,” and Van Morrison’s “Wavelength,” “Radio Nowhere” is an all-out rock & roller that best describes itself:

I just wanna hear some rhythm
I want a thousand guitars
I want pounding drums
I want a million different voices
Speaking in tongues

Flat out, “Radio Nowhere” is the best thing to hit the airwaves in years.

Copyright 2007 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved. 

14. 1976

This video, of Warren Zevon singing “Mohammed’s Radio” on BBC2’s The Old Grey Whistle Test, was taped in December of 1976, just a few months after Paul Nelson met and became fast friends with Zevon and his wife Crystal.

As noted by blogger Jeff Vaca over at Stuff Running ‘Round My Head, Zevon, accompanied by Jackson Browne and David Lindley, looks “impossibly young and innocent”—completely unaware of what life has in store for him.

Copyright 2007 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved. 

13. Bruce Springsteen

“There were a few people who picked up on me very early before my first record, when I was playing solo at Max’s Kansas City,” Bruce Springsteen said about Paul Nelson, “and he’s the one who stands foremost in my mind.”

From 1975 to 1982, Paul wrote a series of infrequent but expansive meditations about Springsteen, his music, and his remarkable relationship to a rapidly burgeoning audience. How accurate were Paul’s perceptions? “Oh, they could come out right now,” Springsteen said, “and they’d be right on the money. That was my job the way that I saw it, and he perceived it. That’s quite a connection to make.”

I spoke with Springsteen Tuesday afternoon, an interview that, by the time all was said and done, took eight months to arrange. In the interim, Springsteen wrapped up his tour with the Sessions band and released a live album documenting it; recorded a new studio album with the E Street Band, Magic, due out October 2nd; and suffered the death of his longtime friend and assistant, Terry Magovern, who passed away in his sleep on the night of July 30th.

As an interviewee, Springsteen was open, funny, and philosophical without being pretentious. And on the subject of Paul Nelson, he spoke eloquently.

Paul entered Springsteen’s life in 1972 when the young singer/songwriter (who was then 22 or 23) would take the bus from New Jersey into New York City to play the opening half of double bills at Max’s Kansas City. Paul was impressed enough to keep coming back, bringing with him other writers and artists (including Elliott Murphy) and turning them on, too, to the New Jersey phenom.

Everything Is an Afterthought examines Paul’s friendship with Springsteen (mostly in Springsteen’s own words) and how the artist’s special brand of rock & roll represented for Paul more than just music. The book will reprint all of Paul’s articles and reviews about Springsteen, presenting for the first time Paul’s preferred texts, based on his original manuscripts. (For instance, Paul’s review of The River is considerably different than what got published in 1980 and which can be found online.) 

Documenting Springsteen’s early career, Paul’s writings reflect not only his fondness for the man but how he had to come to terms with his friend’s music when it took turns down alleyways both unexpected and dark.

Copyright 2007 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved.

12. New York Dolls

Long story short, Paul Nelson, freshly promoted to A&R from publicity at Mercury Records, first witnesses the New York Dolls in 1972. “The Dolls were something special,” he would write later. He spends the rest of the year trying to convince his higher-ups to sign the band to its first record deal, but isn’t successful until March of the following year. In June of 1973, the Dolls record their first album. The rest is history.

“I knew they were going to have to be a big success or I would lose my job,” Paul remembered to Steven Ward in 1999, “and I did.” Whether or not the Dolls were indeed the reason for Paul’s exit from Mercury Records is explored in Everything Is an Afterthought. One thing that’s not debatable is his essential role in the group’s career.

Last evening, 34 years after the classic debut album, the New York Dolls played the Siren Festival in Coney Island. As I stood there, right up front, hearing some of those same songs that Paul first heard and in which he perceived greatness, it felt as if perhaps he were there, too. Looking up at the stage, nodding his head and smiling as David Johansen, still full of the energy that ultimately abandoned Paul, sang about having a “Personality Crisis”: “… you got it while it was hot/Now frustration and heartache is what you got.”

Almost one year ago over at Mere Words, I wrote about the Dolls’ third studio album, One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This, and the fine documentary about the band’s original bassist, Arthur “Killer” Kane. That post, “Playing With Dolls,” is reprinted here along with some photos I took last night. Enjoy.

In the early Seventies, the New York Dolls were the reigning rock & roll band in New York City, the darlings of David Bowie and the avant-garde intelligentsia, Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith rolled into one, and America’s principal purveyors of such newfound concepts as deliberate musical primitivism and the punk rock of futuristic, haute-couture street children. A cult band, they were passionately loved or hated, and more than a few critics (myself included) saw in them this country’s best chance to develop a home-grown Rolling Stones. The Dolls were talented, and, more importantly, they had poisonality! Both of their albums made the charts, but a series of stormy misunderstandings among their record company, their management and themselves eventually extinguished the green light of hope, and the group disbanded… Like all good romantics, they had destroyed everything they touched. 
                                             
                                            Paul Nelson, Rolling Stone, May 18, 1978

The argument could be made that we have the Mormon Church to thank for One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This, the first studio album in 32 years by the New York Dolls. It may not be a particularly good argument, but all the components are there for a not even half-baked conspiracy theory: 

As depicted in Greg Whiteley’s fine documentary New York Doll, original Dolls bassist Arthur “Killer” Kane, who, following an act of self-defenestration, had converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was working in the church’s Family History Center Library when he discovered that an almost 30-year dream, something he had prayed for again and again, was about to come true: the remaining Dolls (David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain) wanted to reunite. Not only are his Mormon coworkers and bishop supportive of their friend, whose life of drinking and drugs had gone out the window with him, they help fund the retrieval of his guitar from a local pawnshop so that he can start practicing for the reunion gig. Had they not and had Kane not rejoined the band, and had New York Doll never been made, you could argue that there would not have been the press and acclaim and subsequent momentum to get the Dolls back into the studio, back on the radio, back on TV, and back in the stores. 

If New York Doll isn’t the best piece of pro-LDS propaganda the Mormon Church has ever had at its behest, it’s at least some damn funny and insightful off-the-cuff filmmaking. (Has ever a movie come into being so accidentally?) The movie’s wacky elements and plot twists a faded, jealous rock star, his bitter wife, a quart of peppermint schnapps, a handy piece of cat furniture, an open kitchen window, and an unexpected demise tell a tale of decadence and redemption worthy of Raymond Chandler.

But in the midst of all this craziness there beats a heart, and it’s a sweet one. Such as when Kane, “the only living statue in rock & roll” and, in Johansen’s words, “the miracle of God’s creation,” leads the group in prayer before they take the stage for the first time in almost 30 years. Or earlier, back at the library, when Kane explains the responsibilities of being a rock & roll bassist to the two little old ladies with whom he works. Or when he confesses to his Mormon bishop his apprehensions about getting back together with Johansen (who, when he finally arrives in the studio, looks like a haggard Allison Janney). 

                      

Which brings us to the Dolls’ third album, One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This, which arrived in stores on Tuesday and which, like Bettie Page adorned in leather, is hard and soft at the same time. Lots of ricocheting guitar lines and anthemic pounding housed within four Phil Spectorish walls of sound; middle-aged men acting tough, vamping and posturing while sounding melodic as all hell. A reminder of how rock & roll ought to be. How it used to be. 

Combining clever wordplay (“Evolution is so obsolete/Stomp your hands and clap your feet,” from the pro-simian/anti-creationist single, “Dance Like a Monkey”) and wordy cleverness (“Ain’t gonna anthropomorphize ya/Or perversely polymorphousize ya”), Johansen, whose vocalizing and songwriting have both aged magnificently, proves that, despite his Buster Poindexter detour, he remains one of rock’s savviest practitioners. He leads the Dolls through a variety of subjects and styles while spewing his trash poetry lyrics (“All light shines in darkness/Where else could it shine?”) with his heart on his sleeve and his tongue firmly in cheek often at the same time:

Yeah, I’ve been to the doctor
He said there ain’t much he could do
“You’ve got the human condition
Boy, I feel sorry for you”

Funny is one thing, smart is another; but funny and smart at the same time, that’s tough. Ask Woody Allen.

Listening to the new album, I couldn’t help but think of critic Paul Nelson, whose words opened this piece and who, back in the early Seventies, was the A&R guy who put his job with Mercury Records on the line when he signed the Dolls to their first record deal (“I knew they were going to have to be a big success or I would lose my job, and I did”). What would Nelson, whose body was found alone in his New York apartment earlier this month, have made of the Dolls’ new effort and return to the spotlight? And would he have seen anything of himself in the song “I Ain’t Got Nothing”?

This is not how the end should have come
Who could imagine this when I was young?
Where is everybody?
It’s not the way I wanted it to be

With One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This, the New York Dolls pick up right where they left off over 30 years ago, as if no time at all has passed. Which begs the question (especially with all the dancing like a monkey going on): shouldn’t there have been some kind of evolution musically? If the Dolls remain just as smart and funny as before, and rock just as hard if just plain surviving isn’t enough  what have they gained? 

Wisdom perhaps?

We all should be so lucky.


Copyright 2007 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved.

12. New York Dolls

Long story short, Paul Nelson, freshly promoted to A&R from publicity at Mercury Records, first witnesses the New York Dolls in 1972. “The Dolls were something special,” he would write later. He spends the rest of the year trying to convince his higher-ups to sign the band to its first record deal, but isn’t successful until March of the following year. In June of 1973, the Dolls record their first album. The rest is history.

“I knew they were going to have to be a big success or I would lose my job,” Paul remembered to Steven Ward in 1999, “and I did.” Whether or not the Dolls were indeed the reason for Paul’s exit from Mercury Records is explored in Everything Is an Afterthought. One thing that’s not debatable is his essential role in the group’s career.

Last evening, 34 years after the classic debut album, the New York Dolls played the Siren Festival in Coney Island. As I stood there, right up front, hearing some of those same songs that Paul first heard and in which he perceived greatness, it felt as if perhaps he were there, too. Looking up at the stage, nodding his head and smiling as David Johansen, still full of the energy that ultimately abandoned Paul, sang about having a “Personality Crisis”: “… you got it while it was hot/Now frustration and heartache is what you got.”

Almost one year ago over at Mere Words, I wrote about the Dolls’ third studio album, One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This, and the fine documentary about the band’s original bassist, Arthur “Killer” Kane. That post, “Playing With Dolls,” is reprinted here along with some photos I took last night. Enjoy.

In the early Seventies, the New York Dolls were the reigning rock & roll band in New York City, the darlings of David Bowie and the avant-garde intelligentsia, Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith rolled into one, and America’s principal purveyors of such newfound concepts as deliberate musical primitivism and the punk rock of futuristic, haute-couture street children. A cult band, they were passionately loved or hated, and more than a few critics (myself included) saw in them this country’s best chance to develop a home-grown Rolling Stones. The Dolls were talented, and, more importantly, they had poisonality! Both of their albums made the charts, but a series of stormy misunderstandings among their record company, their management and themselves eventually extinguished the green light of hope, and the group disbanded… Like all good romantics, they had destroyed everything they touched. 
                                             
                                            Paul Nelson, Rolling Stone, May 18, 1978

The argument could be made that we have the Mormon Church to thank for One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This, the first studio album in 32 years by the New York Dolls. It may not be a particularly good argument, but all the components are there for a not even half-baked conspiracy theory: 

As depicted in Greg Whiteley’s fine documentary New York Doll, original Dolls bassist Arthur “Killer” Kane, who, following an act of self-defenestration, had converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was working in the church’s Family History Center Library when he discovered that an almost 30-year dream, something he had prayed for again and again, was about to come true: the remaining Dolls (David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain) wanted to reunite. Not only are his Mormon coworkers and bishop supportive of their friend, whose life of drinking and drugs had gone out the window with him, they help fund the retrieval of his guitar from a local pawnshop so that he can start practicing for the reunion gig. Had they not and had Kane not rejoined the band, and had New York Doll never been made, you could argue that there would not have been the press and acclaim and subsequent momentum to get the Dolls back into the studio, back on the radio, back on TV, and back in the stores. 

If New York Doll isn’t the best piece of pro-LDS propaganda the Mormon Church has ever had at its behest, it’s at least some damn funny and insightful off-the-cuff filmmaking. (Has ever a movie come into being so accidentally?) The movie’s wacky elements and plot twists a faded, jealous rock star, his bitter wife, a quart of peppermint schnapps, a handy piece of cat furniture, an open kitchen window, and an unexpected demise tell a tale of decadence and redemption worthy of Raymond Chandler.

But in the midst of all this craziness there beats a heart, and it’s a sweet one. Such as when Kane, “the only living statue in rock & roll” and, in Johansen’s words, “the miracle of God’s creation,” leads the group in prayer before they take the stage for the first time in almost 30 years. Or earlier, back at the library, when Kane explains the responsibilities of being a rock & roll bassist to the two little old ladies with whom he works. Or when he confesses to his Mormon bishop his apprehensions about getting back together with Johansen (who, when he finally arrives in the studio, looks like a haggard Allison Janney). 

                      

Which brings us to the Dolls’ third album, One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This, which arrived in stores on Tuesday and which, like Bettie Page adorned in leather, is hard and soft at the same time. Lots of ricocheting guitar lines and anthemic pounding housed within four Phil Spectorish walls of sound; middle-aged men acting tough, vamping and posturing while sounding melodic as all hell. A reminder of how rock & roll ought to be. How it used to be. 

Combining clever wordplay (“Evolution is so obsolete/Stomp your hands and clap your feet,” from the pro-simian/anti-creationist single, “Dance Like a Monkey”) and wordy cleverness (“Ain’t gonna anthropomorphize ya/Or perversely polymorphousize ya”), Johansen, whose vocalizing and songwriting have both aged magnificently, proves that, despite his Buster Poindexter detour, he remains one of rock’s savviest practitioners. He leads the Dolls through a variety of subjects and styles while spewing his trash poetry lyrics (“All light shines in darkness/Where else could it shine?”) with his heart on his sleeve and his tongue firmly in cheek often at the same time:

Yeah, I’ve been to the doctor
He said there ain’t much he could do
“You’ve got the human condition
Boy, I feel sorry for you”

Funny is one thing, smart is another; but funny and smart at the same time, that’s tough. Ask Woody Allen.

Listening to the new album, I couldn’t help but think of critic Paul Nelson, whose words opened this piece and who, back in the early Seventies, was the A&R guy who put his job with Mercury Records on the line when he signed the Dolls to their first record deal (“I knew they were going to have to be a big success or I would lose my job, and I did”). What would Nelson, whose body was found alone in his New York apartment earlier this month, have made of the Dolls’ new effort and return to the spotlight? And would he have seen anything of himself in the song “I Ain’t Got Nothing”?

This is not how the end should have come
Who could imagine this when I was young?
Where is everybody?
It’s not the way I wanted it to be

With One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This, the New York Dolls pick up right where they left off over 30 years ago, as if no time at all has passed. Which begs the question (especially with all the dancing like a monkey going on): shouldn’t there have been some kind of evolution musically? If the Dolls remain just as smart and funny as before, and rock just as hard if just plain surviving isn’t enough  what have they gained? 

Wisdom perhaps?

We all should be so lucky.


Copyright 2007 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved.

11. Evergreen Video

Paul Nelson worked as a clerk at Evergreen Video, on Carmine Street in the West Village, from 1989 to 2005. As he withdrew more and more, Evergreen served as his sanctuary. There he was surrounded by cinema, which he loved even more than music (renowned for his rock criticism, only occasionally did Paul act on his larger desire to be a film critic).

At the end of June, Steve Feltes, Evergreen’s owner and one of Paul’s best friends, closed Evergreen for good. Since Paul’s death a year ago, and up until the shop’s last day, a sign in the window acknowledged, without explanation, that he’d been there and that he’d mattered:

Paul Nelson
1936-2006

Copyright 2007 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved.

11. Evergreen Video

Paul Nelson worked as a clerk at Evergreen Video, on Carmine Street in the West Village, from 1989 to 2005. As he withdrew more and more, Evergreen served as his sanctuary. There he was surrounded by cinema, which he loved even more than music (renowned for his rock criticism, only occasionally did Paul act on his larger desire to be a film critic).

At the end of June, Steve Feltes, Evergreen’s owner and one of Paul’s best friends, closed Evergreen for good. Since Paul’s death a year ago, and up until the shop’s last day, a sign in the window acknowledged, without explanation, that he’d been there and that he’d mattered:

Paul Nelson
1936-2006

Copyright 2007 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved.

10. Jackson Browne

Back when I first approached Paul Nelson about our working together to anthologize his best writing — before I knew whether or not he was interested in the project or whether he’d even received my proposal — I’d imagine the two of us sitting across a table, working long into his beloved night while we agreeably disagree which pieces to include and which ones to set aside for perhaps a different collection.

When Paul died, over a year ago now, leaving me to decide which pieces qualified as his best, I knew of less than 100 of his articles, reviews, and essays. Now I’ve collected more than three times that many, making the decision that much more difficult.

One thing was sure from the start, however: that my book would contain all of Paul’s writings about Jackson Browne. Arguably more than any other artist about whose work he wrote, the pieces Paul penned about Browne and his music are among his most passionate, his most autobiographical. He wrote as if he completely understood Browne — because Browne seemingly completely understood him.

Paul’s review of Running on Empty is available online. Along with everything else he wrote about Browne (including some previously unpublished material), it will be included in Everything Is an Afterthought.

When I interviewed Browne early this year, he had this to say about Paul: “I was always very grateful that he wrote what he wrote; and I don’t want to give it a name or diminish it by encapsulating it with some sort of description of what that was. But it made me feel that I was being received, that I was being heard, by people who really got it.” 

Indeed he was.

Copyright 2007 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved.

10. Jackson Browne

Back when I first approached Paul Nelson about our working together to anthologize his best writing — before I knew whether or not he was interested in the project or whether he’d even received my proposal — I’d imagine the two of us sitting across a table, working long into his beloved night while we agreeably disagree which pieces to include and which ones to set aside for perhaps a different collection.

When Paul died, over a year ago now, leaving me to decide which pieces qualified as his best, I knew of less than 100 of his articles, reviews, and essays. Now I’ve collected more than three times that many, making the decision that much more difficult.

One thing was sure from the start, however: that my book would contain all of Paul’s writings about Jackson Browne. Arguably more than any other artist about whose work he wrote, the pieces Paul penned about Browne and his music are among his most passionate, his most autobiographical. He wrote as if he completely understood Browne — because Browne seemingly completely understood him.

Paul’s review of Running on Empty is available online. Along with everything else he wrote about Browne (including some previously unpublished material), it will be included in Everything Is an Afterthought.

When I interviewed Browne early this year, he had this to say about Paul: “I was always very grateful that he wrote what he wrote; and I don’t want to give it a name or diminish it by encapsulating it with some sort of description of what that was. But it made me feel that I was being received, that I was being heard, by people who really got it.” 

Indeed he was.

Copyright 2007 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved.

10. Jackson Browne

Back when I first approached Paul Nelson about our working together to anthologize his best writing — before I knew whether or not he was interested in the project or whether he’d even received my proposal — I’d imagine the two of us sitting across a table, working long into his beloved night while we agreeably disagree which pieces to include and which ones to set aside for perhaps a different collection.

When Paul died, over a year ago now, leaving me to decide which pieces qualified as his best, I knew of less than 100 of his articles, reviews, and essays. Now I’ve collected more than three times that many, making the decision that much more difficult.

One thing was sure from the start, however: that my book would contain all of Paul’s writings about Jackson Browne. Arguably more than any other artist about whose work he wrote, the pieces Paul penned about Browne and his music are among his most passionate, his most autobiographical. He wrote as if he completely understood Browne — because Browne seemingly completely understood him.

Paul’s review of Running on Empty is available online. Along with everything else he wrote about Browne (including some previously unpublished material), it will be included in Everything Is an Afterthought.

When I interviewed Browne early this year, he had this to say about Paul: “I was always very grateful that he wrote what he wrote; and I don’t want to give it a name or diminish it by encapsulating it with some sort of description of what that was. But it made me feel that I was being received, that I was being heard, by people who really got it.” 

Indeed he was.

Copyright 2007 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved.